NerdDad Reviews: Transformers Prime

Last week, I wrote a piece highlighting some of my favorite nerdy shows that I get to watch with my kids, so I thought I’d take it a step further and actually review some of the shows we watch. Most of these are available (at least for now) on Netflix, and will be noted thusly, so bear that in mind. First up, a personal favorite: Transformers Prime.

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Airing on Hasbro’s Hub Network (now Discovery Family) from 2010-2012, Transformers Prime focused on a small group of Autobots living on Earth, trying to protect the indigenous humans from the Decepticons who have come in search of Energon. It centers around a trio of earth children, Jack (an unassuming teen who wants a normal life and for girls to notice him), Miko (a Japanese exchange student whose primary goal is to freak out her host parents), and Rafael (a super-smart kid with an overbearing mother and an interest in RC cars), and their inadvertent involvement in the Tansformer’s secret war and the government’s equally secret involvement in it.

What I like most about this show is the writing.  It takes a much darker, more serious tone than any of its predecessors, which makes it ideal for both kids and adults. It starts with a 5-part mini-series and the continue to use multi-story arcs to propel the series through all 3 seasons. The characters are fully developed; Optimus is an idealist with a deep sense of honor, who would sooner hope that any Decepticons would switch sides than kill them. This makes him out to be a bit of a buzzkill at times, but he stays true to his character throughout, rather than dishing out zippy one-liners for a cheap laugh. Contrary-wise, some of the dialog and exposition is clumsy, but that is to be expected of a show aimed primarily at children, and most of the series is so strong, it can be forgiven.

Starscream is the sniveling sycophant he has always been, and Agent William Fowler put it best in the episode Grill when he said, “[Starscream] needs to figure out if it’s Megatron’s job he’s after, or his approval.”  Preening, arrogant, and conniving, Starscream has one of the best character arcs through the series, and gets some of the best animation, as some of his reactions are downright cartoony (in the best way possible).

And Megatron… Oh, Megatron. Once again voiced by the original Megatron, Frank Welker, this Megatron is the villain he should have always been. Cunning, resourceful, and absolutely ruthless, Megatron will use anything to advantage himself over his enemies.  His desire for power is unmatched and it takes an encounter with the chaos god Unicron to truly break his will.

The cast is amazing, including the original voices of Optimus Prime and Megatron– Peter Cullen and Frank Welker, respectively– as well as VO heavyweights Kevin Michael Richardson, Nolan North, Darran Norris, Steve Blum, Josh Keaton, and Sumalee Montano. Jeffrey Combs (Reanimator) stars as cantankerous medic ratchet; Ernie Hudson (Ghostbusters) plays human-Autobot liaison Agent William Fowler; Dwight “The Rock” Johnson (The Tooth Fairy) shows up as Cliffjumper; Michael Ironside (Scanners) voices Optimus Prime’s second-in-command, Ultra Magnus; and John Noble (Lord of the Rings: Return of the King) is an imposing Unicron. Short of listing the entire series cast, other notable voices include Tony Todd and Adam Baldwin (who were both on Chuck).  The rest of the cast are solid as well, but there just isn’t room to highlight them all here.

The animation is 3-D computer animation, leaps and bounds ahead of 1996’s Beast Wars.  What I have learned watching this and other CG shows is that traditional cel animation allows you to have 2 characters standing and talking to each other without moving and it will look fine.  If those same 2 characters stand and talk to each other in 3-D without moving, it looks cheap and cut-rate.  Because of this, animators often have the characters gesturing and moving (kind of) unnaturally, which takes away from the acting.  Also, particularly early on in the series, the lip syncs aren’t perfect.  On the other side of that, some of the animation, particularly some of Starscream’s facial expressions through the last part of the third season, is great.

This is a definite 4 of 5 stars.
****

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